Layer Masks

Layer Masks
In some of the upcoming posts layer masks may be used, so here is a how-to on layer masks and how to work with them, since this has not been covered before.

What are layer masks and what do they do?

“So what are layer masks then? Well, if the term ‘mask’ is what’s confusing you (and who could blame you), replace the word ‘mask’ in your mind with ‘transparency’, because that’s exactly what a layer mask does. It allows you to control a layer’s level of transparency. That’s it, that’s all. There’s nothing more to them than that. Now, you may be thinking, ‘But… I can already control the transparency level with the Opacity option, can’t I?’ and yes, you certainly can. The Opacity option in the top right corner of the Layers palette also allows you to control a layer’s transparency.
But here’s the difference. The Opacity option changes the transparency level for the entire layer at once. If you lower the Opacity level down to, say, 50%, the entire layer becomes 50% transparent. That may be fine for some situations, but what if you want only part of a layer to be transparent?”

To begin using a layer mask, you need two have two pictures open in photoshop on the same document page. For this lesson I am going to be using a picture of a red panda and of a black and white panda, shown below.

To show how to use a layer mask, I am going to be placing the red panda over the picture of the black and white panda, with the two images blending together.

The first step is to place both pictures into the same document. The easiest way to accomplish this is to open the base picture in photoshop and then to locate the original file for the overlaying picture and right click on the file and hit ctrl c to copy the image (cmnd c on a mac). Then go back to photoshop and onto the base image’s document and hit ctrl v to paste the image into the same document (cmnd v on a mac).

Once this has been done, it is time to enable the layer mask. To enable a layer mask, go to the right hand panel in photoshop and go to the bottom of the panel and select the icon with a circle inside of a rectangle.

When you enable a layer mask, one of two things will happen.
If your paint palette was originally set to white, then nothing will look as if it has changed. If the paint palette was originally set to black, the object you are editing into the picture will look as if it has disappeared. If your object seems to have disappeared, do not worry that it was erased. All you need to do is look over to where the layers are shown and next to the layer you should see another rectangle on the right that will either be white or black in color.

You can work with either color as your layer, but more often then not, using the color white will make your task easier because you will be able to see both images as you work. Now that your layer mask is set up, you can begin working with it. To start off, select your paintbrush tool, seen below.
After you select your paintbrush, make sure that, depending on the color you selected for your layer mask (if the background is white, set your paintbrush to white or if the background is black, set your paintbrush to black,). Then right click on the image to open up the paintbrush settings.

You can set your size of your brush depending on the image you are going to be working around. The hardness however, should be set to 0%.
Now that your brush settings are good, you can begin to fade the overlaying image’s edges. To do this, just start to use the paintbrush and paint over what you do not want to show.

What you will notice the more that you paint is that the painted areas will seem to disappear, as if having been erased. Do not worry, it has not been erased. If you happen to paint over something that you did not intend, simply switch your paint color to black and re-paint over the area or areas that have disappeared. As you paint over those areas, you will see the image return.

This is one of the benefits of a layer mask, that you can remove something from the image, but still have it there (hidden from view), in case you need it later on.

Once you have gotten the overlay picture to the way you want it to be through the layer mask, all that is left is to do any adjustments that may be needed by using brightness/contrast and hue/saturation.

In this case, the images did/didn’t need to be adjusted to work together. This leaves you with the image below.

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